Against Satanic Panics > Recent cases > Lewis, Scotland



The island of Lewis in Scotland, in 2003 and again in 2005

by Diane Vera



Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.



  1. Introduction
  2. From the arrests (October 2003) until the charges were dropped (July 2004)
  3. The unreliability of the main adult witness
  4. Report by the Social Work Inspection Agency (August and October, 2005)
  5. SRA scaremongers
  6. Aftermath of the SWIA report - pending lawsuits?


  1. Introduction
  2. In October 2003, an SRA panic began on the island of Lewis, in Scotland. Two of the people arrested, in a multi-victim multi-offender (MVMO) case on Lewis, were Peggy and Ian Campbell, who are Pagan. In July 2004, all the charges were dropped by the Crown prosecutor, due to lack of evidence. But that was far from the end of the matter. In October 2005, an official report was released which nearly everyone interpreted as endorsing the original charges, and there was talk about a possible lawsuit by the alleged victims against the accused. So, this case is still very much up in the air.

    In this particular case, it appears that the children really had been severely abused by their parents - at least in many nonsexual ways, if not sexually too. But their mother claimed that her three daughters had been sexually abused, both by her husband and by a bunch of people outside the family - including the afore-mentioned Pagan couple. Despite the mother's known history of making false allegations of child sexual abuse, it appears that the children may have been questioned repeatedly until the children themselves came to believe that they had been sexually abused by a bunch of different people. At a very late stage of the investigation, the mother also began to make SRA allegations - which the police took seriously, partly out of ignorance about modern Paganism.

    A good summary of the case, M.V.M.O. Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) Hoax, Lewis, Scotland, can be found on the website of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. More details, with documentation, can be found below.


  3. From the arrests (October 2003) until the charges were dropped (July 2004)
  4. At dawn on October 3, 2003, police raided houses in various different parts of the U.K., in England as well as Scotland, including Lewis Island, arresting at least thirteen adults and taking children into care. Some of the arrested adults, including Ian Campbell, were then charged with child sex offenses, while others, including Peggy Campbell, were not charged with any crimes but were just held for questioning. The number of people charged with sex crimes varies between seven and nine, depending on which news stories you read. (Seven in the earliest accounts, eight in some later accounts, and then nine in still later accounts.) Police believed that they were all part of a big nationwide child sex ring that was subjecting kids to SRA, and that they had all abused three particular girls on the island of Lewis at one time or another.

    The alleged victims were all daughters of a mentally ill woman referred to in some newspaper accounts as "Mrs. X." Several years earlier, Peter Nelson, one of the accused, had reported to social services that the children were in some kind of danger, though newspaper accounts are vague as to what kind of danger and from whom.

    In the blog The Early Days of a Better Nation, on Thursday, March 09, 2006, Hugo-nominated author Ken MacLeod said the following about the island of Lewis:

    When I was a little kid I lived on the island of Lewis, which is about fifty miles long and about thirty miles across. It's a lump of eroded metamorphic rock with a thin covering of soil here and there and long sandy beaches on its Atlantic coast. It's a sad, sad, cynical place that has been the graveyard of many schemes of improvement. Like in Louis MacNeice's poem 'Bagpipe Music': It's no go the Herring Board, it's no go the Bible, all we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle. (In British English 'fags' means cigarettes, by the way.) You can understand its being sad. Just a couple of generations back, hundreds of young men returning from the First World War drowned within sight of the harbour at Stornoway. That is the sort of luck it has. As you might expect Lewis is - or was - totally dominated by Presbyterianism and drink and because the Presbyterian ministers make sure most of it is 'dry' young lads drive drunk for miles and miles on bad roads at night and get killed or crippled in car crashes. The boys who survive go to sea and the girls go to Glasgow to become nurses and the only population growth is ageing hippie New Age settlers and entrepreneurs who become suspects in Satanic abuse witch-hunts.

    (That is a very slight exaggeration.)

    In July 2004, the Crown prosecutor decided not to go ahead with the case, due to a lack of sufficient evidence. But that didn't stop the lynch mob mentality in the suspects' neighborhoods.

    Peter Nelson is quoted in one news story as saying, "These men came from surrounding areas and destroyed my house and car. They smashed the CCTV system erected to protect my house, and eventually burnt out my house. We were living in complete fear - lying awake every night waiting for the next attack." (Parents cleared of child abuse to sue police by Alasdair Palmer and Rajeev Syal, The Telegraph, UK, July 4, 2004; another copy here.)

    According to annother news story (No peace for the accused after Lewis ritual abuse case dropped by Vicky Allan, Sunday Herald, UK, July 4, 2004; another copy here), "Their homes have been daubed with graffiti, their windows smashed. In Lochs, Nelson’s car was torched, his prized garden wrecked, bleach poured around his trees. Penny Campbell, whose husband Ian was one of the accused, has seen public places clear when she arrives. She has been told in a phone call: 'Penny I will never come near you again.'"

    At that point Peter Nelson and the Campbells were seeking legal advice to sue the local police and social service agencies for wrongful arrest and imprisonment.

    They enlisted the aid of Bill Thompson, a criminologist who had helped to defend the accused in the 1991 Orkney case, in which nine children were taken from their homes amid allegations of ritual abuse which were later thrown out of court. Thompson challenged police and social workers to release transcripts of their interviews with the children to determine whether leading questions were asked.

    Penny Campbell has founded an organization, False Allegations Action Scotland (FAAS). Their website includes collections of news stories about the Lewis case in particular and about the more general issue of how child abuse accusations are handled in the U.K. The FAAS website also has this page containing, among other things, some accounts of the October 2003 raid by those arrested.

    Below are news stories about the case up to July 2004:

    I also found a blog entry titled "This is important", dated July 11, 2004, in The Pagan Prattle by Feňrag


  5. The unreliability of the main adult witness
  6. Lster, in October 2004, the main adult witness against the accused was identified in the newspaper Scotland on Sunday as a 37-year-old woman named Angela Stretton, who had a history of making false allegations. Moreover, the police were already aware of her history of false allegations when they made the arrests in the Lewis case. (See Revealed: past lies of abuse witness by Stephen Breen, Scotland on Sunday, UK, Oct. 31, 2004; another copy here and another copy here).

    An anonymous web page, The Woman Behind the Western Isles Case, identifies Angela Stretton as the mother of the three allegedly abused girls. I have not yet seen any news reports confirming that Angela Stretton was indeed their mother. But it does seem likely because, as we'll see later, an official report says that the girls' mother was the main adult witness.


  7. Report by the Social Work Inspection Agency (August and October, 2005)
  8. Almost a year later, in August 2005, there were leaks to the press about a forthcoming report by the Social Work Inspection Agency (SWIA). The report was supposed to be issued the following week, but was suddenly withdrawn at the last minute. The report was then finally released two months later, in October 2005.

    The SWIA report dealt with "family A," the family of the three girls, referred to as "Alice" (born 1989), "Barbara" (born 1991), and "Caitlin" (born 1993). To a lesser extent the report also dealt with another family, referred to as "family B," in which both parents were among those arrested during the October 2003 raid, and whose children were temporarily taken into care at that time. The aim of the report was to determine whether various social service agencies did an adequate job of making sure that the children in both these families were adequately cared for. The report did not concern itself with the conduct of the criminal investigation beyond its impact on the children and on the delivery of needed social services to the children.

    Judging by the report, it would appear that the children of family A were indeed severely abused in many ways - not just sexually - over a period of many years, primarily by their parents. This conclusion, according to the report, was based on statements by many different people in various social service agencies, plus health professionals, who had had dealings with family A over the years. But, as we'll see later, there are reasons to question the conclusion that they were sexually abused.

    Even more questionable is the allegation, which the SWIA report also seems to endorse, that the children were sexually abused not just by "Mr. A" but also by a bunch of other people who had occasionally visited family A or vice versa. These allegations were, in most cases, based solely on statements by "Mrs. A" and the three girls.

    The report concluded that the children of family A should have been removed from their parents a lot earlier than they eventually were. The delay was explained as follows, in paragraph 105 of the final version of the report:

    All of the services provided by health and social work staff were designed to support the parents to bring the children up themselves. This is in keeping with the essential principles behind the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 that so far as is consistent with safeguarding and promoting the child’s welfare, the local authority must promote the upbringing of children by their families (section 22 (1)).However, in families where serious abuse continues, this approach is not consistent with safeguarding children’s welfare. In these circumstances the children may need to be removed from home. This difficult issue is recognised in the Department of Health ‘Framework for Assessment of Children in Need and their Families’ which noted: ‘It has to be recognised that in families where a child has been maltreated there are some parents who will not be able to change sufficiently within the child’s timescales in order to ensure that their children do not continue to suffer significant harm. In these situations, decisions may need to be made to separate permanently the child and parent or parents.’ (DOH 2000: 58)

    I would guess that the 1995 law had been passed as a reaction against the SRA scare of the late 1980's and early 1990's, during which a lot of children had been taken away from their parents willy-nilly. Apparently the social service agencies then went to the opposite extreme for a while, leaving children with their parents even in cases where the parents clearly were abusive and/or neglectful and showed no sign of getting better.

    Deleted from the final version of the report were some identifying details about the children. Also, the report specifically mentioned that it would not spell out the more horrific details of the abuse that the children of family A were said to have suffered over many years.

    Here are some of the original leaks to the press in August 2005:

    Here is some message board commentary.

    And here are some stories about the withdrawal of the report the following week:

    And here are some stories about the report when it was finally released again in October 2005:

    The report itself (over 160 pages, in PDF format) can be found on the website of the Social Work Inspection Agency (SWIA).

    The report has a section on "the joint investigation," beginning with paragraph 282 on page 95, about the investigation which led to the arrest of a bunch of people in October 2003. The allegations which led to the investigation were first made in December 2002, when "Barbara told her foster carer that she had been abused by adults who visited her parents’ home. These incidents had taken place some years ago. Barbara’s foster carer contacted the duty social worker" (paragraph 284).

    The next paragraph says:

    The joint investigation began in January and continued until October 2003. The two younger children, Barbara and Caitlin, began by telling of abuse by unrelated adults. As the investigation proceeded they also named family members as abusers. Children who have experienced abuse rarely tell all of the events at the beginning. They tend to ‘try out’ their experiences and check out the response from adults. ‘We need to be aware that initial disclosures by children very often are only partial disclosures. Children come out with lesser abuse first before they trust to tell the full story, often much later. Some children say initially that they have only been abused once and they implicate a stranger. Only later when they trust do they disclose long term abuse by friends, family members and strangers.’ (Furniss, 1995: 216)

    The report doesn't mention the possibility that the children might begin by making false allegations against strangers or against relatively casual acquaintances of one's parents before finally daring to name the real culprits, one's parents.

    The idea that abused children are reluctant to disclose abuse by parents - an idea which is probably true in many cases - has sometimes been misused to justify a belief that whenever a child accuses a parent, the accusation must be true - a belief which, no doubt, has put many innocent parents in jail. However, in this case there would seem to be plenty of other evidence that "Mr. and Mrs. A" did indeed abuse their daughters - if indeed the SWIA report is accurately representing its many sources, and if indeed the statements of these many sources are based on more than just confirmation bias - and those are two big if's.

    Penny Campbell, in a report to the media issued before the SWIA report came out, disputes the claim that the three girls ever were sexually abused even by "Mr. A." She believes that the only sexual abuse that the children ever suffered was being told repeatedly, first by Angela Stretton (who is apparently "Mrs. A") and then by others, that they had been sexually abused. Penny Campbell says that social services first got involved in the lives of "family A" when Angela Stretton misreported a case of diaper rash as sexual abuse. Also, according to Penny Campbell's report, a medical examination in 2001 found that the children had not been sexually abused. Only later, in 2004, after the children had finally been put in foster care, was there a medical report saying that the children had been sexually abused. Penny Campbell says also that the children have received psychotherapy from one Valerie Russell Smith, involving "anatomically correct dolls," and that this form of psychotherapy "is already known to produce behaviour indicative of sexual abuse in non-abused children." For more about Valerie Russell, see Western Isles Social Work Department refuses to investigate complaints on the website of False Allegation Action Scotland (FAAS). Another page on the FAAS website, 6 Things we want public to know, says that "The children from a very early age were subject to weekly interagation by the social services. But because the childen had nothing to say time and time again, the social workers were convinced that the children were too afraid to tell the truth." Of course, children who have been repeatedly questioned about something from a very early age might well come to believe, eventually, that the thing they were being questioned about must have really happened.

    In any case we can conclude that "family A" was not a healthy environment for the children, regardless of whether they had actually been sexually abused or were just being brought up by a pathological liar who was also a neglectful, all-around very bad parent. If there's one thing that both the SWIA report and most of the accused agree on, it's that "Mr. and Mrs. A" were abusive at laest in many nonsexual ways, if not sexually. And the SWIA report says that the kids did a lot better, in terms of their schoolwork and otherwise, once they were put into foster care.

    What I have strong doubts about is the alleged involvement of a big bunch of "unrelated adults" in sexually abusing the three girls. In the majority of cases, even the SWIA report acknowledges that there is no evidence for these other people's involvement other than statements by the children and/or by "Mrs A," who we already know is an unreliable witness. (Recall that, according to an earlier news report, "the key police witness in the Lewis abuse case" - apparently "Mrs. A" - had a previous history of making false allegations.) Perhaps some of the other alleged abusers are guilty. According to paragraph 290 of the SWIA report, one of the "unrelated adults" allegedly confessed to "touching at least one child in an intimate and inappropriate manner on a number of separate occasions." (We should ask: exactly what sort of "intimate and inappropriate manner"? This might be a matter of interpretation.) But, even if this one "unrelated adult" is guilty, I have strong doubts that the children were abused by as many different adults as is claimed. Another possibility we should consider is that the children might indeed have been abused by that many adults, but the children and/or "Mrs. A" might be mistaken as to at least some of those adults' identity, given how long ago the alleged abuse happened.

    And, of course, I'm very skeptical about the alleged "Satanic ritual" aspect. Aw we'll see later, the "ritual abuse" allegations came up only toward the end of the investigation, and they came from "Mrs. A."

    In paragraph 292 of the SWIA report, "Caitlin," the youngest of the three girls, is quoted as having written in her journal in July 2003:

    ‘…Something has happened to me. I think it is along the lines of what Barbara said I did to her. It could be part of the reason I was soiling myself. If something has happened I have pushed it to the back of my head. I have to keep thinking until I remember completely. I am not totally certain.’

    Uh oh. Recovered memories, now?

    In paragraph 296, the report notes:

    When children disclose sexual abuse there is a difficult balance to be maintained by caring adults, between giving them permission to tell what has happened and not ‘leading or encouraging’ them to embellish their experiences. We did not find any accounts of the children receiving skilled help to make sense An Inspection into the Care and Protection of Children in Eilean Siar of their experiences. We consider that the lack of expertise of the staff involved inhibited them from fully considering these issues for the children.

    And paragraph 303 says, regarding "Mrs. A" and her allegations of ritual abuse:

    In all interviews Mrs A was accompanied by an appropriate adult. She described in detail severe and prolonged abuse of her children by a number of adults. She was interviewed over a period of seven months. Towards the end of the period she described abuse of her children and others as part of various rituals conducted by numbers of adults. She was eventually advised by her appropriate adult to stop describing abuse. In her precognition statement she retracted her allegations against two of the former accused. We found no record of Mrs A being assessed by a psychologist as to her ability to be a witness. The impact of her learning disability appears never to have been determined. Because of this we cannot be certain whether the impact of successive interviews might have led her to elaborate her accounts of abuse, rather than remaining focussed on what happened to her own children. Recommendation: In major crime or protracted investigations where a witness or potential suspect is a vulnerable adult, the police should commission a psychological assessment to advise on the person’s capacity to give evidence and on the length and number of interviews which should be undertaken with them.

    The report does not mention "Mrs. A's" known past history of making false allegations.

    Regarding both "Mr. and Mrs. A," the report had this to say, near the beginning of the report, in paragraph 10:

    The children’s mother has a learning disability, had been sexually abused by her own father and was alleged to have abused other children. When her daughter was one year old, she married. Her husband was a schedule one offender convicted of indecently assaulting his daughter from a previous marriage. Mr and Mrs A went on to have two children. The various agencies tasked with protecting the three children worked with their parents for 11 years, offering support and assistance in an attempt to protect the children while keeping the family together.

    Despite these admissions, the SWIA report comes across as endorsing pretty near all the allegations, including those involving "unrelated adults."


  9. SRA scaremongers
  10. The FAAS website identifies the following people as SRA scaremongers:

    • Lee Moore, identified as a "child abuse lawyer and training provider for courses on Satanic Ritual Abuse," in Penny's report to the media.
    • Laurie Matthews, identified as a "promoter of Satanic Ritual Abuse in Dundee," in Penny's report to the media.
    • Professor Brigid Daniel, Norma Baldwin and Sgt. Douglas Gray, identified as "Teaching Fellows and Lecturers in the department of Child Care and Protection at the University of Dundee," on the page Western Isles Social Work Department refuses to investigate complaints, which also says, "All three have links with Sarah Nelson and Beatrix Campbell, whose names will be familiar to many." Sgt. Douglas Gray is further identified as "a member of the Family Protection Unit, Tayside Police, who gained a M.Phil in Child Protection in 2002 and is a self-confessed believer in Ritual Abuse. He is currently on the Steering Committee for the implementation of the Vulnerable Witnesses Act."
    • Roy Meadows and Dr Camille San Lazaro, referred to briefly on the page 3 more points, which also contains a link to a page The Road to Shieldfield (Part 1) by Margaret Jervis


  11. Aftermath of the SWIA report - pending lawsuits?
  12. Once the SWIA report was published, just about everyone involved who hadn't already threatened a lawsuit did so now. According to one news story, an unidentified "main suspect in the case" - evidently "Mr. A" - said he had been in touch with his lawyer about suing for damages because someone had reacted to the allegations by attacking him and breaking his jaw. Likewise, Susan and John Sellwood, who were among those arrested back in October 2003, announced their intent to sue as well. (Suspect in Lewis sex abuse case to sue by Mark Macaskill, The Sunday Times - Scotland, October 09, 2005.) This same news story said that the three girls were going to talk to lawyers about the possibility of suing both (1) the alleged abusers themselves and (2) the Western Isles Council, for failing to protect the girls in a timely fashion.

    According to another news story that appeared on the same day, the Western Isles Council was in talks with the girls about providing the girls with legal representation to sue the accused. (Lewis victims plan private prosecution by Liam McDougall and Alan Crawford, Sunday Herald, 09 October 2005; another copy here.) A similar news story appeared the next day. (Abused trio may mount private prosecution by Michael Howie, The Scotsman, Mon 10 Oct 2005.)

    In the Sunday Herald there was another, longer article about the SWIA report and various people's reactions to it. (Three children on the Isle of Lewis were sexually abused for years by Alan Crawford, The Sunday Herald, Oct 9, 2005.) Colin Mackenzie, president of Association of Directors of Social Work, is quoted as asking why the Crown prosecutor dropped the case back in July 2004. Ditto for Alasdair Morrison, identified as the "Labour MSP for the Western Isles." Both come across as believing that the accused are guilty but have gotten away with it somehow. (Not being British, I'm not sure what an "MSP" is. On acronymfinder.com, "MSP" is listed as having 85 different meanings. For now, I'll guess that the correct one in this case is "Member of the Scottish Parliament.")

    Toward the end of the article, there were brief statements by some of the accused. David Disney said that he and his wife had been foster carers for the children at one point. Among other things, he was upset that the SWIA report did not mention how well the children did (e.g. their "fantastic" school reports and reports from the children's charity NCH) while under his and his wife's care. The article indicated that David Disney said the report contained many inaccuracies, but the article did not spell out what all those inaccuracies were. The article then had seven paragraphs about Peter Nelson, who, back in 1999, had contacted social services and even had a two-hour meeting with them to voice his concerns about the children's welfare. The article ended with a timeline.

    Several days later, a local newspaper published a summary of recent developments, ending with: "Penny Campbell, whose husband Ian was among those charged, questioned a number of issues in relation to the report and claimed that some of the information was inaccurate. She has called for a public enquiry into the whole affair to help clear their name." (Isles MSP wants answers over child abuse case, in the West Highland Free Press, local newspaper for the Isle of Skye and the Western Isles, Friday 14 October 2005.) This article also dealt with the issue of why the social service agencies had been so slow to remove the children from a very abusive environment. As I suspected, the article mentioned "a belief that they acted very much in line with Scottish Executive guidelines which were themselves strongly influenced, towards the avoidance of family break-up, by the Orkney experience." In other words, an overreaction against previous SRA panics such as the one at Orkney.

    Penny Campbell's comments on the SWIA report can be found on the FAAS website, on pages titled Next steps and Press Release by FAAS: SWIA Inspection Report. The FAAS website also contains A Response to Alasdair Morrison.

    Meanwhile, the newspaper Daily Mail had been making its own investigation of the case. On October 15, 2005, the Daily Mail published Special Investigation by Fiona Barton and Rosie Waterhouse. (I was not able to find any online copies anywhere except on the FAAS site.) The Daily Mail article explains how the "Satanic ritual" aspect of the allegations first arose, in police interviews with "Mrs. A" in August 2003, and it says that "PC Andrew Blakey, the 30-year-old investigating officer who had been with the force for six years, was becoming worried about the mother’s credibility as a witness."

    In November 2005 the FAAS website published a statement by the brother of "Mrs. A," Western Isles; falsely accused remain demoralised by "Daryl Dobson" (a pseudonym). He stated that the girls' parents were very neglectful and had extremely poor parenting skills in general, but he does not believe that the children were sexually abused.

    As of April 2006, I have not seen any further news on this case. Most likely, though, at least one of the threatened lawsuits will happen sooner or later.



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